Hasina says no one is above the law as she defends Baul singer arrest

Sheikh Hasina has defended the recent arrest of a Baul singer on charges of hurting religious sensibilities in a case that drew the attention of the international media and criticism from rights groups.

Parliament Correspondentbdnews24.com
Published : 22 Jan 2020, 05:19 PM
Updated : 22 Jan 2020, 05:19 PM

No one can vouch for the Baul singers’ purity, the prime minister says.

Police arrested Shariat Sarkar, a Bayati or lead singer of a folk music group, after an imam started a case against the mystic poet.

The Bayati is accused of hurting Muslim religious sentiments while elaborating verses of his Sufi song at a religious gathering in Dhamrai near Dhaka on Dec 24 last year.

He is in jail now on being grilled in police custody.

“He must’ve been involved in some crime. He wouldn’t have been arrested otherwise. The legal course will be followed if someone is involved in any specific crime,” Hasina told parliament on Wednesday answering JaSoD MP Hasanul Haq Inu.    

“And Baul artists should not do anything that can throw their position in global tradition into question. They should be aware of it,” she said.

Citing the arrest of Shariat, Inu said similar incidents had taken place recently, such as villagers driving out folk singers or cutting off the artists’ locs.

“The aftermath of the aggression launched by the military rulers on Pala Gaan and other cultural activities after usurping power through the assassination of Bangabandhu has not ended yet,” he said.

The JaSoD president asked whether the prime minister would order the officials to save the Baul community.

Hasina said her government encouraged Baul culture by taking initiative to establish Baul song as world tradition.

“But we must let the law take its own course when even a Baul singer is found involved in any crime. It has nothing to do with Baul song,” she said.

“And can anyone guarantee that the Baul singers are unsullied by crime? It’s not that Baul singers have never committed any crime,” Hasina said.

The prime minister agreed with Inu that cutting hair locs or barring someone from singing without any reason is “utterly unacceptable”.  

“We will take proper steps against anyone doing these crimes,” she said.

“Besides cutting [long] hair, the military dictators did many things, such as cutting roadside bushes to launch cleanliness campaigns and wearing T-shirts or riding a bicycle in a show of austerity. But these dramas lasted only six months.

“Their suits came from Paris. They wore French chiffon and expensive Ray-Ban sunglasses,” Hasina added in a dig at the military strongmen.